The Norwich author behind George Gently

Alan Hunter.

Alan Hunter. - Credit: Archant

He was the straight-talking, no-nonsense TV cop created in Norfolk who millions of viewers loved. Derek James pays tribute to author the late Alan Hunter.

It was the television series with Norfolk stamped all over it, but you would never have guessed; no clues whatsoever.

The main man lives in Norfolk and the writer was born and bred in the county, once running a busy bookshop in 1950s Norwich, but who never lived to see his creation on television.

George Gently's TV beat was in the North East of England but originally he was a Norfolk policeman invented by the late and great Alan Hunter.

He first arrived on our screens ten years ago, two years after Alan, one of our most talented and prolific crime writers, died.

Just before his death he told me: 'It would have been good to see him on television. You never know - he could have become another Morse.'

Although the action moved from East Anglia to the North East I think Alan would have loved the series especially as George Gently was played with such style by the brilliant Norfolk-based actor Martin Shaw.

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The series finally came to an end last month with Gently being killed and Martin said the decision to axe the show was the right thing to do. Perfect timing.

He thinks the secret of its success was that at its heart it was not really a cop show but a programme about a decent but damaged man trying to deal with the loss of his wife who had been murdered.

It was Peter Flanners, who wrote Our Friends in the North for television, who turned Gently into a household name.

'I was rummaging in a dusty old bookshop when my hand fell on a paperback called Gently Through the Mill by Alan Hunter,' said Peter.

'He seemed attractively old-fashioned, not just in his methods and his mindset, but in his values. He deserved to become the nation's favourite detective,' he added.

Peter set about setting the stories in the 1960s, switching the action from Norfolk to the North East and persuaded Martin Shaw to take on the role... and it worked a treat.

Gently, a thoughtful copper who played by the rules while so many others bent them, was born in Alan's bookshop in the Maddermarket in 1955. At the time his bookshop was described as the 'hot-bed' of local Bohemia with pipe-smoking men in duffle coats putting the world to rights.

Alan Hunter was a writer with real flair and imagination who never really got the credit he deserved during his lifetime. He was born at Hoveton St John, near Wroxham, on the River Bure and grew up on the Broads.

He started writing poetry and short stories and his natural history notes in the Evening News and Eastern Daily Press illustrated what a fine way he had with words.

He published the Norwich Poems while serving in the RAF in 1944 and went on to write plays for the Conesford Players in the city and the Hellesdon WI Drama Group.

Eventually Alan gave up his bookshop and moved to Brundall where he became a full-time writer.

Over the years he wrote almost 50 books featuring the mild-mannered Gently, who had fans and followers across the world.

He was also a leading member of the East Anglian Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association and did much to encourage other authors.

Alan died in 2005, just two years before his creation became a TV favourite for millions of viewers.

Gently may have been bumped off on the telly but you can still enjoy Alan Hunter's wonderful books. You'll find a range of Gently titles at Jarrold in Norwich. They come highly recommended.